Most of us have had this kind of experience. In psychology, it’s call a tip-of-the-tongue experience.
This time, though, I noticed another layer. I knew that I knew the name. I was confident that it would ‘come to me’ (whatever that really means). But I also knew that this knowledge was ‘buried’ deep in my mind; that it would probably take at least a day or two for it to emerge into conscious awareness. And indeed, that is exactly what happened. Two days later, it was there.
Look at all the questions this raises. How did I know that I knew, even though at the moment I could not access that knowing? And how did I know that the knowledge was buried deep? Finally, how did I set the retrieval process in motion?
Here is a tentative description, based on how it seemed to me at the time. The name made sense in a certain context, one that was far removed from my current concerns. I had to launch a probe–not to make my way into that unknown land, but to reshape my current reality so that it would expand to include a territory to which it now lacks access, but which is somehow still ‘on the radar’.
Here’s an analogy. See the cats and the rat above? It will come as no surprise to anyone that rats ordinarily have a fear response to cat odors. But there’s a parasite called T. gondii that finds its way into rat brains; when it does, it somehow alters the brain so that instead of being sent into panic mode when it smells a cat, the poor manipulated rat feels sexual attraction. Result: the rat draws near and gets eaten by the cat.
Which is just what the parasite is after, because it turns out it can only reproduce inside a cat’s digestive system. That’s how it gets on with the business of surviving. Scientists have no idea how it works.
Something similar is happening when I launch my probe into the known unknown–the unremembered memory. Somehow, I am going to change the shape of my known world. And I know, with a fair degree of certainty, that it’s going to work. I can even predict how long the process will take. But I still don’t how. As with our friend T. Gondii, it’s a mystery, even if we do mostly take it for granted.
Let’s expand this out. My mind has its patterns. Suppose I want to change them, to expand the range of possibilities open to me. Can I launch a probe to do that? Is that how inquiry into experience works? Set a question turning in my mind, not just an idle question that doesn’t probe very deep or travel very far, but a question Icare about–a question that matters to me. After a while, the mind itself is changed, and new knowledge emerges. Maybe not as hard as we sometimes think.